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The Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Call of Faith

Readings: Acts 2:14a & 22-32, Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Easter is a call to faith, the Christian response to the Easter event, faith that believes even though it cannot see. That is what Peter boldly proclaims to all in Jerusalem who will listen. "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."

But do we? Let’s face it! It is easy for Peter and the other disciples to believe. After all, they were witnesses to the risen Lord! They talked to him. He appeared to them offering them peace. He sent them out filled with the Holy Spirit. He gave them power to forgive. How could they not believe?

And there is Thomas! He could not take their word for it. He wanted proof. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

Aren't we like that? I know I am. I want proof positive. I want to see for myself. For most of us, seeing is believing. We rationalize. We question. We want to know the outcome before we commit ourselves.

There is something more in Thomas's story that has always intrigued me. It is a seemingly trivial fact that John chooses to include. He tells us that Thomas is a twin. Do you ever wonder why he put that in? Why was it important enough to add? Was it to make the story more interesting? I truly doubt that, although twins are interesting characters. I remember a set of twins that I once taught. They were a real challenge. That whole year I never learned to tell them apart. I was never quite sure when I called one of their names just who actually answered. And being Jane and Joan it probably wouldn't have mattered much. They kept the class guessing about what they would get into next. They knew without saying a word what the other was thinking. They were bright and fun. To have twins must be both a double joy and a double challenge. But that doesn't explain why John told us that Thomas was a twin.

He also didn’t tell us whose twin Thomas was. We can read in Scripture about James and John being brothers. Whose twin was Thomas? Could it have been Mary Magdalene, or perhaps even Judas? Nothing even begins to explain why he made a point of telling us that Thomas was a twin.

That is, unless you read between the lines. Who is Thomas’s twin? The answer is evidently meant to be “us”. We are Thomas’s twins. Like Thomas we all experience times of fear and doubt, pessimism and trust, belief and unbelief. And that is a difficult place to be, because we don’t like to live with ambiguity. We want a sense of certainty.

We see it in the priorities of society. Billions of dollars are spent every year developing new technologies. Meanwhile millions of people starve to death. We worry less about improving our present existence than about the unknown, those things which are just beyond our reach. We want to know.

When it comes to God we are even more anxious to know with a sense of certainty. We want signs, wonders, miracles. We want to prove the existence of God. Is God really out there looking after things? Is the world in good hands? Is everything going to turn out all right after all? Are the good going to be rewarded and the bad punished? Is there something to look forward to when our earthly life is completed?

There are uncertainties in life as well. How can we be certain that we are really loved? Is there meaning to life? What legacy will we leave behind us? We want certainty about who we are and what we have accomplished. That makes us Thomas’s twin. He just wanted to be certain. He wanted tangible proof. He didn’t want to be told. He wanted to see for himself. He wanted to see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands. He wanted to put his finger in the mark of the nails. He wanted to put his hand in Jesus’ side. Only then could he be certain that there would be no disappointments, no false hopes.
Let’s read between the lines again. When Jesus came to the Upper Room to see the disciples, Thomas wasn’t there. Whatever good reason he may have had, he missed out on what the rest of the community shared. He missed the encounter with the risen Christ. He missed the words of peace. He missed the outpouring of love and concern and blessing. He missed the pep talk that sent the others out carrying the message of forgiveness.

Many good people have the mistaken notion that they don’t need the community of faith. They think they can make it on their own. “What purpose does church serve?” they ask. “I can live a Christian life on my own terms. I can be good. I don’t need the church. After all, it’s filled with a bunch of hypocrites who just want my money.”

Others think that once you become a Christian, once you accept faith, all the doubts simply disappear. They think that with faith all our rational faculties cease to be used. We simply park our brains at the door. We accept the Church’s teaching and follow blindly.
That will never be enough. For doubts come. In fact, I am skeptical of anyone who says they have no doubts. I fear they may be fanatical in their faith. Doubts come to all of us.

Doubts come to us when we look at all the terrible things that are going on in the world. What kind of God allows the terrible suffering that comes about because of war, or famine, or terrorist acts? What kind of God allows disasters to strike innocent people?

Doubts come most of all when we face difficulties and hardships in our lives. We question the very existence of God. Why am I sick? Why did my child die? Why can’t I find a job? Why did my spouse walk out on me? Why is God letting this happen to me? I am faithful. I believe. Why? What use is faith if bad things still happen? Where are you God when I need you? If that is the basis of our relationship with God, then doubts will simply overwhelm us. We will lose hope. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; hopelessness is!

I had this very conversation this past week with a close friend. She is a faithful Christian, raised in the Roman Catholic Church and active in her parish. Lately any number of things have caused her to question her faith – the death of a close mutual friend, another friend’s struggle with a debilitating disease, her son’s continuing struggle with depression, her own chronic pain. “I went to all the services during Holy Week and Easter,” she said to me, “but somehow I am just left with emptiness. I know it is wrong. I need to have faith, but …”

That is where Thomas’s story comes in. It continues to be so reassuring. It says to me that it is reasonable to have doubts. It is understandable. It is human. Everyone has doubts about their relationships at one time or another. There is not a husband or wife who has not at some time had doubts about their relationship. There are no two friends who have not at some time in their relationship wondered whether it would last. And there is not a believer who has not experienced Christ as absent from their lives at some time or another. We have all had times when it was difficult to believe.

Thomas challenges us to persevere when we have doubts. He got to the place where we must get. Like him we must cry out, “My Lord and my God!” It may sound more like a question than a statement. Never mind. Persevere in the faith. Witness to how God is working in your life and in the lives of others. Deepen your commitment to God day by day. Commit yourself to the work of the Church.

And most of all, watch for the signs of resurrection around you. We need moments of evidence, moments of feeling God’s presence. Such moments are given so that our faith can survive the periods of seeming absence of God, the times when we do not see, yet believe.

Where is the risen Lord to be seen?
• In the bursts of colour as spring returns
• In the face of the stranger who smiles as we pass by one another
• In the voice of a friend who calls just to say hello
• In the laughter of children
• In a moment of joining hands with another person in the exchange of the peace
• In bread broken and wine poured
• In looking into another’s eyes and seeing Christ

The gospel is about us after all. It tells us that Thomas was a twin. It leaves us with the tantalizing question, “Who is Thomas’s twin? And there is only one possible answer. I! I am Thomas’s twin. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

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